I like reading tough guy, and gal, books as well as the next person. I write some of my own scenes in which people beat people up, get beat up, shoot people, etc. But I do not attempt to pretend that I’m a tough guy myself. Too many of my fellow genre – crime – writers, however, do. And I’m getting really bored with it.
I once spent an hour photographing Norman Mailer, the king of all faux-macho, posturing, bellicose cretins. He wasn’t a real tough guy. He was an asshole. I know some writers who aspire to be like him. They ought to reconsider.
There is nothing cool about barfights. Anyone who thinks there is, has either never been in one, or had their brains knocked loose of their moorings in the ones they have been in.
When I lived in Boise, Idaho during my first year of college, I knew a cowboy. Really, that’s what he was; he herded cows on horseback for a living. He was a little guy, no more than five foot seven or eight and weedy. For reasons having to do with his girlfriend, I’d see him mostly on Sundays, when he was all beat up. He’d sport black eyes, usually two at a time, a wide variety of bruises, aches and pains, lumps on his head. He’d limp and walk like he was being poked with needles that would dig further into him whenever he’d move.
He’d go out to roughneck bars on Saturday nights and get into fights that he knew he was going to lose. More often than not he’d get into fights with his friends, hoping they might go a little easier on him than a stranger would. They didn’t, near as I could tell.
Why? Because he needed the work. And to get the work he needed to prove he was a “man.” And men, real men, get drunk and beat each other up in bars on Saturday nights. At least they did in his world. I could go into how it’s undoubtedly something to do with repressed homoeroticism. But there’s really no need to analyze it beyond the fact that it was stupid. Just plain stupid.
When I was in Lisbon, Portugal in late 1974, during the revolution, I used to hang out in a seedy bar, the Bar Texas, down by the docks. One night I was buying drinks for a hooker from Angola who spoke good English. She was drunk enough to be telling me her life story and I was just sober enough to follow it.
A guy walking by took umbrage at something someone nearby said. He smashed his almost-empty beer bottle on our table and went after that someone at the next table with the broken glass. That person pulled a knife. They cut each other up pretty bad. Blood was flying everywhere. My hooker friend pulled her own knife and I dove under our table. A lot of the people in the bar got into it. Mostly I remember watching people’s feet and legs and hearing more breaking glass and curses and screams and the sounds of people getting hurt. It was terrifying.
Finally things calmed down. Everyone had hurt who they were going to hurt, at least for the time being. My hooker friend reached down to me with a bloody hand, pulled me up and led me out of there before the police came. On the way out of the bar we passed people laid out on the floor, across tables, bloody, moaning, holding their stomachs and their heads. There was nothing the least bit pretty, sexy, romantic or anything else good about it. I took my friend to a clinic to get bandaged up.
There is nothing cool about guns, either. People who really know guns, who need to use them to protect themselves or others, or to put food on the table, respect them as a workman respects his tools. They don’t fetishize them. They don’t think they’re exciting or sexy or fun or anything more than a simple grim necessity.
I've known my share of cops and soldiers and a few spies. Not one of them, who's any good at what they do, is what you'd call a "gun nut." They take it too seriously for that. They really are tough guys (and gals.) They don't need to pretend like they are, or to show off about it. And every single one of them would rather talk their way out of a fight then throw a punch or pull a gun.
When they go to a shooting range it's to hone their skills, it’s not to party. They might enjoy it, like anyone would enjoy practicing something that they’re good at. But that’s not really the point. It’s part of the job. It’s not a hobby.
The fact of the matter is that far too many people who don’t take them seriously, who think they are toys or some sort of miracle cure for crime, or if you want to get analytical - are worried about the size of their dicks - own guns. My neighbors own guns and I am certain that they don’t have the slightest idea what to do with them. They are far more likely to shoot each other, or an innocent bystander, than they are to hold off a criminal.
So I’ve got a plea to all those pretend cowboys and tough guys (and gals): cut the crap, will ya? Write about it all you want and I’ll enjoy reading, at least some of, it. But you don’t have to act like you live it. Not unless you want to admit you have no imagination